Sunday 26th September 9am Worship
Sermon Series: Intentional Faith Development
Title: Who is Responsible for my spiritual growth?
Bible Reading: Malachi 3:8-18 and Micah 6:6-8
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
You know these types of phone calls. Early evening, often around dinner. This particular phone call happened a few years ago but it went something like this:
Me: Hello, Phil speaking.
2: Hello sir. I’m calling on behalf of the ABC research centre. They do amazing work helping sick kids who have x,y and z diseases. They are looking for some donations to …
Now, at this point of these types of phone calls, I would usually try and wrap it up and hang up. “Thank you but I am not interested.” She might have been having a bad day, or maybe this was her selling technique … I don’t know, but I wasn’t prepared for her next line – “Don’t you care about sick kids?”
Sorry. Was she trying to guilt me into giving? I decided to push back. “I am a church minister who visits sick kids in hospital. I don’t think it is fair that you say that I don’t care.”
“A church minister. Well, you of all people should give …”
At this point hung up.
When I was writing this sermon, I was reminded of that conversation because it highlights the question I wanted to explore today. Why Give? There are countless causes, needs, charities, people, businesses, organisations all asking for us to give. Why give to them? Why give to the church? Why give at all? The lady on the phone called upon my sense of guilt and my sense of duty. Do you give? If you do, why give?
Today and next week we are going to be exploring the next on Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations and in doing so, we are going to be talking a lot about giving. I am a big believer on the idea that giving to God is much more than our money – but also our time, our energy, our love and our talents … but today I am largely talking about money. BUT I want to be clear these sermons are not about trying to guilt you into giving, nor calling on your sense of duty as a Christian to give. That is not where I am coming from. Rather, today I want to look at the whole issue of giving from a number of different perspectives. I encourage you NOT to tune out just because I am talking about giving … I promise you that this will not end up being the usual sort of talk on giving.
The idea of giving to God or giving to the church is not new.
Right from the beginning of Genesis, people where bringing offerings to God as a sign of their thanksfulness. In Genesis 4 we see Cain and Abel bringing their offering of grain and cattle. Cain brought the “first fruits” of his crop – the best of his crop, where Abel just gave of what was left over. It caused an argument, and people have been disagreeing about giving ever since!
In Leviticus, the law tried to formalise the process of giving to God. It introduced the idea of tithing – giving a tenth of whatever your income was to the temple. This had a largely practical component … a 1/12 of the Israelites were the priests who did not own any land or herds. They needed to get fed so the other 11 tribes gave 10% which fed the priests and also fed the refugees & others in need. (As a priestly type person, I am really grateful for that idea).
This was great when it worked but was often abused. People failed to give or when they gave, they gave the leftover stuff, the dodgy animals or slightly off crops. Which is exactly the point that Malachi was trying to make in our bible reading today. God, through Malachi, was saying – don’t give to God out of your leftovers, don’t give the dodgy stuff or the scraps but give of your best, give generously – be extravagant in your giving – and God will also be generous in opening up the storehouse of heaven.
The New Testament if full of verses on money and giving. Actually besides the Kingdom of God, Jesus talks about money more than any other topic. Although Jesus trashed the temple over corruption, he seemed to affirm that giving to God or to the church was good. (think of the woman who gave the two copper coins). Paul in Romans 12:7 says, “If our gift is giving then we should give generously” … or extravagantly!
There are so many passages in the bible about money and giving – the problem for me is not what the bible says about giving … my biggest problem is with how sometimes preachers speak on these passages. I have heard too many talks before the offering or sermons which try and “make” people give more. Have you heard those sort of sermons? Preachers who use guilt or fear or our sense of duty to make us give more.
Or even more uncomfortable is when preachers use the prosperity line… If we give generously to God, then God will bless you materialistically and give you more money back. I am not one of those ministers and that is not my theology. I believe that giving should be something which comes from the heart.
2 Corinthians 9:7 basically tells us that if we don’t want to give, then we shouldn’t. God says, if you feel like you are only giving because you have to, or you have a duty too, then don’t. God says, “Only give what you have worked out in your heart to give.”
This is not quite what you expect to hear from a talk about giving. We have our offering each week, next week we launching our thanksgiving offering and I am telling you NOT to give unless you feel in your heart that it is right. I can just our treasurer Rob internally going – NO, that’s not what we want you to say! But it is true. Unless your heart is in it, then don’t give! Let me give you an example to see if it helps you understand this point.
Let’s say that bring home to my wife a great bunch of flowers – I give them to Marion and she is blown away. She gets out a vase and she is smiling and she says, “This means so much to me that you were thinking of me, I am so surprised.”
Now what if I say to her, “Well I am your husband. It’s my duty”. It just doesn’t quite work, does it? Or what if I say to her, “I was told you needed them”. Or if I say, “No big deal … these were from the funeral I did today.” (I confess, I have actually done that one) … does she even want the flowers anymore? No… why? Because she wants my heart. And if she doesn’t have my heart, then my words or my actions don’t mean a thing.
1 Cor 13:3 – If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. It means nothings.
God encourages us to give and God wants us to contribute to the cost of ministry and mission in this church. God wants us to to help the poor and marginalised, to make a difference in the world … yes, the Bible is full of that sort of encouragement to give … but God does not want it if our hearts are not in it.
Our Reading from Micah summed it up beautifully. God is less interested in dutiful sacrifices or “going through the motion” offerings – what God really requires is for us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly in relationship with our God.
So now that I have laid that groundwork, let’s touch on some other perspectives. To do this, I want to look at some Frequently Asked Questions on this topic – because let’s be honest, we don’t talk about this very often in church. Now remember, these are my answers to these questions, and you might not agree … that’s ok. We can discuss it together over morning tea.
Where does the money go that I give to the church? Is it a good investment?
Good question, because sometimes we have the feeling that our offerings just disappear into the unknown. It is in the treasurer’s budget report … but in summary.
- Our biggest expense is … ministry staff – which includes me, Jonty, Sue in the office and Katherine who coordinates the seniors care centre. We cost the church $150,000 a year. (And can I add, we are so grateful).
- Our next greatest expenses is property which we spend $120,000 a year on – which sounds a lot – but our property income is about the same. So technically, none of your offerings goes to our property … it all goes to ministry and mission.
- About $35k goes to supporting the wider church & overseas missionaries, $32k for support ministry and programs at TUC and $9k on repaying our bank loans.
Is it a good investment? I think it is. I am in awe of our CYF ministries and the work we are doing with seniors. I think our creative worship is first class and we are making a difference through our mission work. Yes – it is a great investment. Imagine what we could do if we had more.
Do we need more money/giving as a church? Should we be reviewing our regular giving to the church…
No and yes. We need to celebrate that after some difficult years of declining giving, the last two year have been great. And as a church, we are travelling ok financially but … still my answer to the question is yes. In the “Extravagant Generosity” Brochure I wrote this… Our church is able to do all that we do in ministry and mission only because of the generous giving of people like you. The reality is that the more resources we have, the more ministry and mission can happen.
That is the harsh reality. There are more opportunities and more God inspired dreams & ideas here at TUC than we have resources to do. For example, God is stirring within me and a couple of key leaders a crazy idea of calling another minister here to TUC – a half time minister to focus on our seniors and pastoral care. But Rob our treasurer is clear. We can’t explore that until our giving increases.
He’s right – but it just re-enforces the idea that our giving to the church either opens up or closes down our ability to explore new and innovative ministries. If we could increase the regular giving to our church by $500 or $1000 a week … we can start talking seriously about ideas such as this.
So, yes – I think that this is a great time to review your giving to the church. If you wish to change and move to direct giving – there is a sheet here that explains how to do that.
So … how much should we give to the church?
This really is between you and God. As I mentioned before, Paul in 2 Corinthians tell us to work out what is right in our hearts to give … and give that cheerfully.
So, I can’t answer this for you, but I can share with you my answer. Even couple of years, Marion and I sit down with our finances and work out what a reasonable figure would be to give to the church. Our starting point has been to tithe (or give 10%). I am not suggesting that everyone needs to tithe but that is just what Marion and I feel is right for us. We also give to other worthy causes – or invest in great ideas for the church.
I would encourage you to do the same. Have a look at your finances and work out what is reasonable, what seems right. Maybe you can’t give as much or maybe God is prompting you to sacrifice a little more for God’s mission. Ultimately, do what seems to sit right with you in your spirit.
Is it still ok to splurge on ourselves?
Of course, it is. God has blessed us and wants us to enjoy those blessings. I have taken my kids to Disneyland 3 times – it’s ok to splurge. But at the same time, we need to acknowledge that we have been extremely blessed by God and we are called to share our blessings with others.
It is all about balance. Where are we spending/directing our money? Is our spending on things like our needs, our wants, our family, our church, other causes tilted one way or another?
I could go on … I had so much I wanted to say to you today … but I think I will wind it up. So, my question is … has this been the stewardship talk you expected? I am not up here telling you to increase your giving by 5%. Rather I encourage you to go away and ponder your approach to giving:
- Start by being thankful for God’s blessings in your life.
- Reflect on the biblical suggestions I have mentioned today when it comes to giving.
- Have a ponder about your motivations for giving and if it is guilt or sense of duty – consider not giving.
- Think about a sense of balance in the way you approach your wealth.
- Maybe pray and ask God for guidance
- Work out in your heart what is right for you to give
- Then give … give cheerfully …
Yesterday I had the joy of dropping off the meals that the TurraZone kids made for some of the oldies in our church. One of the couples were Laurie and Bonnie who come to our 10:45am service.
I was explaining to Bonnie that it was part of the lesson we were trying to teach the kids that life is not always about receiving – it is also about thinking about others and giving to others. Without blinking, Bonnie replied, “I also hope you told them that when they give – we often get more out of it than the person who is receiving.” Here is a woman who has given so much of herself to her God and church for so many years speaking the truth of Malachi. When we are generous in our giving, God does indeed opens up the storehouse of heaven – not in a materialistic way as the prosperity doctrine would say – but in other ways. In richer ways. Do you know what Bonnie is talking about? Because that is the perfect lead in to next week … Thanksgiving Sunday … as we give thanks God for all that we have received and respond in gratitude.